The nice thing about Rex Orange County’s music video for “Sunflower” is that it’s clean without feeling sanitized; bright without being neo-noir (if you don’t know what this means, you’re not alone—I actually had to google “Riverdale neon aesthetic” in order to find the term for...
The nice thing about Rex Orange County’s music video for “Sunflower” is that it’s clean without feeling sanitized; bright without being neo-noir (if you don’t know what this means, you’re not alone—I actually had to google “Riverdale neon aesthetic” in order to find the term for this style of cinematography). Neo-noir being the increasingly popular aesthetic pulling from older noir styles while incorporating modern elements—most notably summed up by bright synthetic lights against dark backdrops. Think Stranger Things. “Sunflower” is different from the neo-noir in that it really doesn’t look to create a contrast between dark and light; it uses what shadow is already there. It’s a pretty accurate representation of what Rex Orange Country seeks to do with his music: shed sunlight on it, cast everything in sharp relief—reveal it, in its flaws and in its perfection, which is what he does here. Nothing and no one is particularly touched up.
The pool, covered in a thin layer of grime. The bottoms of a girl’s sock: dirty. Skin; untouched. These details may seem small, but a lot of videos gloss over the dirtiness of real life. In many videos, people look perfect; they’re flaws are buried under makeup and post-production so as not to detract from the overall aesthetic. But imperfection is the aesthetic of “Sunflower.” The people look like our neighbors. Their houses look like houses we’ve passed at some time or another, shoes like the ones we wore in high schools. Even so, they’re framed brilliantly; things we might’ve thought were average or ugly on the street become beautiful through the video’s visual composition. It is at once familiar and foreign—real life on the screen. It serves to visually represent the song’s core message, which rests on the line: “Sunflowers still grow at night/ waiting for a minute till the sun’s seen through my eyes“—a reminder that our imperfections don’t need to be perceived as ugly.
It’s the dirtiness of life that “Sunflower” seeks to display, in an effort to teach us: it’s not perfection that determines beauty—it’s the perspective.